Gov. Wolf pushing GOP to move money to help Pa. small businesses

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Gov. Tom Wolf is pressuring the GOP-controlled legislature to reroute money from the Pa. Insurance Department to small businesses that need COVID-19 support.

It’s an idea Wolf has been pursuing since late last year, with little progress. The governor already took a first step, authorizing a transfer of the $145 million from the commonwealth’s Workers’ Compensation Security Fund. But now he needs authorization from the legislature.

“Constitutionally, I can’t act unilaterally on this. I can’t do this myself,” he said Thursday.

Republican leaders haven’t committed to the transfer, and didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, when Wolf first pitched the idea of the $145 million, House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman told the Associated Press he thought Wolf’s business closures were primarily to blame for business owners’ struggles, and urged Wolf to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

Wolf’s latest COVID-19 restrictions, which closed indoor dining during a surge in cases, ended on Jan. 4. Right now, in-person businesses are allowed to operate at 75% capacity, and restaurants can open at 50% capacity.

Coronavirus cases have improved somewhat in recent weeks, though cases have remained well above the rates Pennsylvania and other states saw during the summer.

The Insurance Department money in the proposed transfer is funded through premiums on workers’ compensation insurance policies, which ensure claims can be paid if an insurer becomes insolvent.

Lately, it has become a go-to source for lawmakers trying to plug budget holes in a year when several of Pennsylvania’s revenue sources have weakened due to the pandemic.

Wolf and Republican lawmakers already agreed once to tap into it, authorizing $185 million to balance the budget deficit in November.

Wolf acknowledged he’s not thrilled to tap into the fund again. But he says businesses urgently need at least a little bit of help, and another round of CARES Act funding is long-delayed, and isn’t immediately expected to make it to states.

“This is like, plan C or D,” Wolf said.

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